04 June 2020

Lady Fitzgerald of Lichfield
and a genealogical fantasy
that deceived polite society

Maples Hayes Hall near Lichfield … once the home of Lady Fitzgerald, who stood apart from the poor Irish immigrants in Stanford Street (Photograph: Maple Hayes Hall School)

Patrick Comerford

I have been writing over these two days of how pleased I am to have acquired my own copy of Michael Greenslade’s Catholic Staffordshire, with its stories of recusancy, ‘priests’ holes,’ conspiracies, poverty and family networks.

This book has many colourful vignettes, including stories about the Catholic mission at Pipe Hall, which served the Roman Catholics of Lichfield until Thomas Weld sold Pipe Hall in 1800.

Greenslade recalls that when Pipe Hall was sold, the mission bought a house on the corner of Bore Street and Breadmarket Street in Lichfield where a baker was the tenant on the ground floor, and two rooms on the first floor were turned into a chapel.

Father John Kirk, who had been the mission priest at Pipe Hall from 1788 until he was sacked by Thomas Weld in 1793, returned to serve this improvised and impoverished chapel in Lichfield in 1801.

But Kirk was unhappy with the conditions above the baker’s shop, and eventually built a small chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, later replaced by Holy Cross Church on Upper Saint John Street in the 1830s.

The attendances at this church were increased first by French prisoners of war and later by new Irish arrivals, many of whom lived in the Sandford Street area of Lichfield. In 1841, Kirk described his congregation as ‘very poor’ – the only exceptions were a farmer, an innkeeper, one or two small tradesmen, and Lady Fitzgerald, a widow living at Maple Hayes near Pipe Hall.

Holy Cross Church, Lichfield … the widowed Lady Fitzgerald stood out from the poorer parishioners in the 1840s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The name of this widowed Lady Fitzgerald stood out as I read Greenslade’s account. She could hardly be a poor, Famine-era migrant from Ireland; but I could find no Lady Fitzgerald at the time who was the widow of an Irish peer or knight and who might have been living in Lichfield.

Who was she, and how did she come to live in Lichfield?

I went back through the historical descriptions of Maple Hayes on Abnall’s Lane, a late 18th century manor house that is now a special needs school. It is a Grade II listed building and since 1981 it has been the Maple Hayes Hall School, pioneering work and research in the field of dyslexia and special learning disabilities.

A farmhouse had stood at Maple Hayes since at least 1728. When William Jesson died in 1732, the estate was shared by his daughters. It was bought in 1786 by George Addams, a Lichfield wine merchant who had built the house at No 3 Beacon Street that later became the Angle Croft Hotel.

Addams built a new manor house at Maple Hayes in 1794. This house was built in a plain Georgian-style, with three storeys, five bays, a central porched entrance, and single-storey wings.

Addams sold the house in 1804 to John Atkinson, who was High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1828. After that, the house had a series of owners and tenants, including Sir Thomas Fremantle (later Lord Cottesloe), and then his brother-in-law Sir James Fitzgerald.

But who was Sir James Fitzgerald, I wondered, and was he Irish, I wondered?

Springfield Castle … stands on the site of the caste owned by Sir Edmond Fitzgerald in the 1640s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I was surprised, with a little further research, to find that Sir James Fitzgerald was no true baronet at all, but that he had lived for some time in Lichfield and at Wolseley Hall near Rugeley, and that his claimed Fitzgerald title has interesting links with the part of Co Limerick where I am now living.

In all, there have been four titles of baronet created for individuals with the surname Fitzgerald. The oldest of these four titles was given on 8 February 1644 to Sir Edmond Fitzgerald of Clenglish Castle, Co Limerick. This was Claonghlais or Claon Ghlaise, the site of Springfield Castle, between Dromcollogher and Broadford, in west Co Limerick.

The story goes that after he was made a baronet by Charles I, Sir Edmond burned his castle to prevent it being captured by the Cromwellians in the 1640s, and at his own expense raised a cavalry regiment to support the royalist cause. After the Caroline restoration, he failed to recover much of his lands, but he continued to live at what is now Springfield Castle.

When this first baronet died ca 1665, his title passed to his son, Sir John Fitzgerald, as the second baronet. He seems to have recovered a small portion of the estates in area around the present Springfield Castle in a decree issued in 1670. He was the principal patron of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (1625-1698), one of the most significant poets in the Irish language in the 17th century, and this patronage is commemorated on a plaque at the gates of Springfield Castle.

Sir John Fitzgerald had no children and he planned to leave his estates to his widow Ellen, and then to his four brothers in succession: Maurice, Richard, Thomas and Edmund Fitzgerald.

Sir John was brought to London on suspicion of being involved in the Titus Oates plot and was attainted in 1691 for his adherence to the Jacobite cause. His estates were sold by the trustees of the forfeited estates, and were bought on 21 June 1703 by the Hon William Fitzmaurice, ancestor of Lord Muskerry and the present residents of Springfield Castle.

Sir John’s wife Ellen was described as a widow in 1702, when it was said he had died ‘beyond seas.’ Other accounts say he went into exile in France with Patrick Sarsfield after the Treaty of Limerick, and that he was killed in battle in Oudenarde in 1708.

Wikipedia says his title was already forfeit by 1691, although the title is not included in Wikipedia’s lists of extinct, dormant and forfeited baronetcies.

From the 1700s, no more was heard of these Fitzgerald baronets, or Sir John’s four brothers who might have claimed the title given to their father Sir Edmund Fitzgerald in 1644.

However, a very different family tree was produced in 1780 for Sir William Hawkins, the Ulster King of Arms or Ireland’s principal genealogical and heraldic official. This fanciful pedigree, without any convincing dates, biographical details or supporting evidence, claims the title passed from the first baronet, Sir Edmund Fitzgerald, to another son who is named instead as Sir Maurice Fitzgerald. He is said to have moved from Co Limerick to Castle Ishen, Co Cork, and married Lady Honora McCarthy, daughter of the Earl of Clancarty.

This family tree says Sir Maurice decided not to use the title of baronet ‘in consequence of the diminution of the family estates.’ Then, without dates or lifespans, it through six generations of successive male descendants of the family, each of them only sons, for almost a century, until Sir Richard Fitzgerald, who claimed the title as the sixth baronet in 1780.

A version of the family tree adapted for Burke’s Peerage says that for discreet reasons or perceptions of poverty, each of these successive male descendants and only sons declined to style themselves as baronets for almost a century, until Sir Richard Fitzgerald claimed the title.

The family tree says he registered his claim with the ‘College of Arms’ on 18 November 1780. But there is no reference to Sir John Fitzgerald, the supposed second baronet, nor to any forfeiture of the title in 1691, and no explanation of how the claims were ‘acknowledged and confirmed.’

Indeed, the Castle Ishen branch of the family had no known direct links with the Springfield branch of the family, and their claims to the Co Limerick title of baronet dating from 1644 were based on a Georgian fantasy facilitated by Ireland’s leading heraldic authority, Sir William Hawkins. Perhaps you and I have as much right to claim and use this title as anyone else who claimed it.

The claims to the title were dismissed in 1829 in research by Hawkins’s later successor, Sir William Betham, but the soi-disant baronets managed to convince the publishers of Burke’s Peerage and similar publications of the veracity of their claims.

Betham had shown quite clearly that the Castle Ishen family was descended from another, very different Sir Edmond Fitzgerald, of Ballymaloe and Cloyne, Co Cork, who was knighted by Sir Arthur Chichester in 1606 but was never made a baronet and who died in 1611. His fourth son, Maurice Fitzgerald of Castle Ishen, died in 1679, and was the father of Garret Fitzgerald of Castle Ishen, and grandfather of James Fitzgerald of Castle Ishen.

And so, this line of descent continued down to Sir Richard, who managed to convince Hawkins that he was the rightful sixth baronet. He married Johanna Trant from Dingle, Co Kerry, and when he died his claims to a title that was never his passed to their only son, Sir James Fitzgerald, who called himself the seventh baronet. He married Bridget Anne Dalton, whose mother claimed to be the heiress and the last lineal descendant of Sir Thomas More. Through this marriage, the family inherited Thurnham Hall in Lancashire.

Once again, this couple had an only son, Sir James Fitzgerald (1791-1839), who claimed to be the eighth baronet and called himself Sir James Trant Fitzgerald. On 27 September 1826, he married Augusta Henrietta Fremantle (1803-1863), second daughter of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle and sister of Lord Cottesloe, and as tenants they moved into Maple Hayes Hall near Pipe Hall and Lichfield.

Augusta was known in polite circles as Lady Fitzgerald, and her father was a distinguished admiral who had been a companion of Nelson at Trafalgar and who died at Naples in 1810. There were three other Irish marriages in her immediate family: her uncle, Stephen Fremantle, married Albinia Jeffreys of Blarney Castle; her brother, Sir Thomas Fremantle, who once lived at Maple Hayes and later became Lord Cottesloe, married Louisa Nugent; and her niece Augusta married William Brodrick, Viscount Midleton, a wealthy landowner in Co Cork.

Sir James Fitzgerald died at Chalons-sur-Saône in eastern France on his way to Nice on 28 September 1839. He was then described as living at Wolseley Hall, but the widowed Lady Fitzgerald continued to live at Maple Hayes. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s, she is recorded as the owner of Castle Ishen and over 2,000 acres in Co Cork, having moved to Ireland with her sons when they were still minors.

She died on 11 June 1863. The claims to the title used by her husband had passed to her elder son, Sir James Fitzgerald (1831-1867), who called himself the ninth baronet and changed his name to Sir James Dalton-Fitzgerald. After he died in 1867, his widow, the former Blanche Mary Stourton, became a Sister of Charity and died in 1875.

The claimed title and Castle Ishen passed to his younger brother, Sir Gerald Richard Dalton-Fitzgerald (1832-1894), a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who called himself the tenth baronet. He owned 1,190 acres in Co Cork and more land in Co Tipperary in the 1870s. His title, if it ever existed, became extinct when died in 1894.

These two brother baronets had three sisters, Augusta, Cecilia and Emily. Cecilia had married the Marquis Louis Serlupi of Italy, the son a senior official in the court of Pope Pius IX, in 1853, and she still owned the Castle Ishen estate at the beginning of the 20th century. The O’Leary family bought the house in the early 20th century.

The former Angel Croft Hotel in Lichfield … built by George Addams who also rebuilt Maple Hayes Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As for Maple Hayes Hall near Lichfield, when Lady Fitzgerald moved to Ireland the house became the home Samuel Pole Shawe in 1851 and he was High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1855. Henry Cunliffe Shawe sold the house and 450 acres to Albert Octavius Worthington of the Burton on Trent brewery family in 1884, who extended the estate and enlarged and improved the house. The wings were raised to two storeys, bay windows added, and new a south wing and a north service wing were created.

The estate was broken up and sold in 1950. The house was acquired by Staffordshire County Council in 1951 as a boarding facility for King Edward VI School, Lichfield. It was sold in 1981 and since then has been the Maple Hayes Hall School.

If the title given to Sir Edmund Fitzgerald of Springfield Caste in 1644 had any heirs, they did not include the husband or sons of Lady Fitzgerald of Maple Hayes. Perhaps Sir Edmund’s younger sons, Maurice, Richard, Thomas and Edmund Fitzgerald, have descendants living in Dromcollogher, Broadford, Newcastle West, Rathkeale, Askeaton and other places in west Co Limerick. But would they want to try to disentangle the webs of genealogical fantasy that polite society in Victorian Lichfield, Limerick and Cork decided to ignore?

Springfield Castle in Co Limerick … has the title given to Sir Edmund Fitzgerald in 1644 any heirs … and would they want it? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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